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Plant-based giant promotes superior carbon credentials with on-pack labels

August 13, 2020
Consumer Packaged Goods

Plant-based nutrition leader Upfield will introduce on-pack carbon labeling on 100 million packs of its spreads, margarines, butters and creams by the end of 2021.

The carbon labels are designed to inform consumers about the environmental impact of the foods they purchase, which research suggests can be a key differentiator in purchasing decisions. An independent assessment found that Upfield’s plant-based margarines and spreads boast a 70 percent smaller carbon footprint on average than dairy butter.

Upfield brands, including Country Crock Plant Butter in the US and Flora Plant in the UK and Ireland, have introduced the new carbon labels. The US-based company plans to roll out the labels on its leading brands, including Flora, Becel, ProActiv and Rama, in the coming months.

“Our carbon labels equip consumers with the information they need to make informed, sustainable food choices. As such, the labels are clearly visible on-pack and align with product branding. We hope that carbon labels will be a key selling point for today’s conscious consumer. They showcase the full transparency that is now expected from the FMCG industry,” Sally Smith, Head of Sustainability at Upfield, tells PackagingInsights.

is also reducing the environmental impact of its packaging by exploring new alternatives to plastic. A notable example is its Flora Plant product, which is plastic-free and wrapped in paper parchment.

Carbon labels find favor with consumers
Upfield points to a study published in Nature Climate Change that indicates that consumer purchasing decisions are positively affected by carbon labeling. When consumers can make direct comparisons between different food groups, they opt for food with lower environmental impacts. Moreover, consumers tend to underestimate the carbon impact of the foods they eat.

Informing and inspiring consumers to choose foods that are not only healthier but more sustainable is crucial in the transition towards a more sustainable food system, explains Dr. Jeanette Fielding, Chief Corporate Affairs and Communications Officer at Upfield. “Today’s food labels already provide consumers with a lot of important information about ingredients, health benefits, allergens, storage and use. By adding carbon labels, consumers will also understand the impact their food choices have on our climate

Likewise, an international survey found that two-thirds of consumers support carbon labeling on products. The 2020 YouGov survey – commissioned by the Carbon Trust – also identified that of the 10,000 respondents across France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the US, two-thirds are more likely to think positively about a brand that could demonstrate it had lowered the carbon footprint of its products.

“We are pleased to see a growing number of brands consider how they communicate with their customers on carbon impacts and climate change. The Carbon Trust Product Carbon Footprint Label is one way in which they can demonstrate a commitment to measuring and reducing their product’s carbon footprint. We are also seeing brands providing supporting carbon footprint information on their websites and in other customer-facing communications,” Hugh Jones, Managing Director at the Carbon Trust, tells PackagingInsights.

Upfield embraces independent assessment
Following an initial study in 2016, Upfield commissioned Swiss sustainability consultancy Quantis to independently assess the environmental impact of the entire life cycle of Upfield’s products. The results were published in a peer-reviewed study in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment.

The study, conducted across 21 markets in Europe and North America, found that the production of Upfield’s plant-based margarines and spreads has on average a 70 percent smaller carbon footprint, uses half the amount of water and occupies 2/3 less land than dairy butter.

“Upfield is committed to assessing the environmental impact of its plant-based foods and using these assessments to help consumers make more sustainable food choices,” continues Smith. “Living within environmental limits for a growing global population requires a shift from growers, manufacturers and consumers. Sharing science-based environmental assessments is the only responsible way of communicating to consumers the climate impact of their food choices.”

Plant-based diets crucial to global sustainability
The urgency to transition to a sustainable food system is laid out in the landmark reports from the EAT-Lancet Commission, the World Resources Institute and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In 2019, the IPCC studied analyses found that plant-based diets could ensure adequate food production by 2050, using less land than is currently used, allowing considerable forest regeneration, and reducing land-based GHG emissions by up to one-third of the “business-as-usual” case for 2050. A vast positive impact can be made by consciously choosing foods with lower emissions.

“We know that sustainable business practices are of paramount importance to our consumers. As such, we ensure that our packaging reflects our environmental credentials not just in terms of carbon reduction but a range of other factors too. For example, in the US, our I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter brand also displays information on land occupation and water use with clear, comprehensive labels,” highlights Smith.

Upfield brands, including Country Crock Plant Butter in the US and Flora Plant in the UK and Ireland, have introduced the new carbon labels.“Additionally, we try to optimize our products’ environmental performance through programs like a Kansas-based cover crop initiative pioneered by our Country Crock brand in partnership with No-till On The Planes. We also conduct ongoing R&D on product composition and formulation to further increase our sustainability profile,” Smith concludes.

FMCG brands are increasingly finding a competitive advantage in more prominent on-pack communication of their packaging’s environmental sustainability credentials, according to Innova Market Insights. The market researcher identified “The Language of Environmental Sustainability” as its top packaging trend for 2020.

In August, Upfield unveiled its newest plant butter brand, Flora Plant Butter, in the US. Flora Plant Butter is a vegan, gluten-free and non-GMO plant butter with a rich and creamy taste. The launch comes as demand for plant-based products rises, with key industry players shifting their focus towards plant-based offerings.

By: Joshua Poole

Source: Food Ingredients First

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